The other night, as my husband and I took our evening walk around the block, we careened around several new, large piles of debris of neighborhood homes. My husband said “Well, would you look at this. More piles of progress.”
At first, I thought he was making a joke. But he was dead serious, and it occurred to me that he had made one of the more interesting remarks I had heard for awhile. He said that piles of debris to him are signs of progress that people and businesses are coming back, rebuilding. My take has always been, on the more emotional side, that piles of debris are a reflection of what people had lost. My husband said that what we see is just stuff, that what matters is the people whose stuff it is…and that he hopes they will come back, rebuild, and get more stuff!
Looking at things differently does help put this whole mess into a more positive perspective, and now that it has been almost a year after Katrina, I think my perspective perhaps is beginning to change and really has to change to continue in this journey.
I have been reflecting a lot on the one-year anniversary of Katrina and what I would want to write about. I have many different angles I could take. I could perhaps write about the loss, the depression, the anxiety, the nightmares, the fear, the overwhelming sense of hopelessness, the evening darkness and quietness. Or I could write about the things I have learned. For example, insurance companies are losers; the federal government is not very intelligent; the media offer wonderful avenues for getting a response to your needs; Plumbers, electricians, roofers, and contractors should all be part of your circle of best friends; and cats have wonderful coping mechanisms for surviving the elements brought on by hurricanes and floods!
Or, I could go a bit deeper and write on what has happened to me as a person in the midst of this tragedy. I could reflect on the fact, that this one year of my life has brought me face to face with who I really am and what I am really capable of doing. I have always been told that we rest when life is easy and grow when we are met with challenges. Sometimes I have had thoughts that Katrina stole one year of my life, but the reality is that I have grown more as a person than I ever had in one year as evidenced by the new sprigs of gray hair and crow’s feet around the eyes. For those that had tremendous loss before the storm will know what I mean, but for those that had never lost, this year was like no other.
My nest was full; my life was relatively blissful prior to Aug. 29, 2005. But on that day, as my eldest son celebrated his 16th birthday, my nest was blown away and he fell out, not to return to us for one year. He, William, had been accepted with 15 other New Orleanian boys to Georgetown Prep in Bethesda, Maryland. Will had been attending Jesuit in New Orleans. After Katrina, The Jesuit community of Georgetown Prep opened their arms, hearts, and homes to these boys for the remainder of the school year. My two younger sons stayed by my side as I frantically built four new nests (evacuation homes!) within a year.
We are almost one year older now, and my reflections are now on how we have grown. My now almost 17-year-old survived his fall from the nest and has returned home, grown up, taller, and more confident in his ability to weather the storms ahead. My two youngest have grown very close and have relied upon each other for emotional and friendly support. My husband has become the ultimate optimist and the savior of our home, working endlessly to make sure all of our needs are well met. I have gone through a paralyzing state of depression, only to walk out of it realizing that I could and have found that my voice is one that is needed in the midst of this rebuilding process.
I have had to say goodbye to dearest friends and embrace a whole new group of people who will now be my neighbors. I have learned to accept the fact that life is all about change, challenges, ebbs and tides. I have mastered the skill of “hurry up and wait” and the ability to sometimes be still, just for a moment, and let the healing happen in its own time.
Through my husband’s eyes, I am learning to embrace the piles of debris as progress and to relish the sounds of chopping wood, banging hammers, and blazing saws. I am learning that Spanish is a beautiful language and am so grateful to all of those who have left their homes for a while to help us get back into ours.
I have learned that the people in this country are the most awesome ever and that we possess an amazing ability to love one another and care for one another in adverse times. I am in awe of the strength of New Orleanians and how many have returned with gusto, reopening their businesses with great enthusiasm and hope. I have reconfirmed my love for this city and all the little nuances that are unique to it, and I am more proud than ever to be a part of it.
I continue to assist others in my capacity with the NOPD Crisis Unit and am able to reach out a hand to those who continue to struggle trying to find their way. I know a part of their suffering now, and am able to honestly say…”take my hand, hold on a bit longer, this surely will get better.”
Katrina is now part of my life-script forever. The lessons learned this year will go on for years and years to come. I am grateful to be alive, to have my family at my side, and to now know without a doubt--if ever faced with this again--we will survive. We still are not O.K., but I would have to say for some people, often those with tremendous faith and innate resilience, are getting a bit better.